By Kurtis Hiatt
One of W. Russell Ramsey’s fondest memories is that of his mother’s goal for him to get a college education.
The son of hard-working parents whose idea of a good day, Mr. Ramsey said, was getting food on the table and keeping the heat on, Mr. Ramsey blazed a path as the first in his family to get that education, coming to the George Washington University on a baseball scholarship and receiving his bachelor’s in business administration in 1981.
Decades later, Mr. Ramsey, chairman and CEO of Ramsey Asset Management, is known as a successful entrepreneur who built multibillion-dollar businesses in the fields of investment banking and money management.
He is known by friends and colleagues as a family man who has been a strong GW advocate, dedicating 15 years to the university’s Board of Trustees, including six as chairman. In President Steven Knapp’s words, he is an extraordinary man with a “startling ambition” and “contagious vision” for the university.
He is known for a lengthy list of philanthropic endeavors and accomplishments, including establishing the Ramsey Student Investment Fund and overseeing the presidential search committee, the creation of the university’s world-class investment office, the redevelopment of The Avenue, the creation of the 20-year Foggy Bottom Campus plan and the development of the strategic plan.
And soon, Mr. Ramsey will be known as chairman emeritus, as he steps down from his position on July 1. University leaders celebrated Mr. Ramsey’s tenure at GW on Friday as well as at an event in the Charles E. Smith Center on Tuesday.
“Russ Ramsey has supported and guided all of our efforts to continue building a world-class institution, to transform the university’s academic infrastructure, to engage the city of Washington and the institutions around us and to strengthen what, together, we have called our lifelong and worldwide community of alumni,” said Dr. Knapp, who presented Mr. Ramsey with a baseball jersey mounted in a frame with a photo of the chairman as a baseball player during his undergrad years. Mr. Ramsey was inducted into the GW Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
Incoming chairman Nelson Carbonell, B.S. ’85, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., B.A. ’77, echoed Dr. Knapp’s appreciation. Mr. Carbonell thanked Mr. Ramsey for his “tremendous job,” while Sen. Warner lauded the chairman for his entrepreneurial success and “ability to reach any goal, to break down any barrier.”
Though grateful for their appreciation, a humble Mr. Ramsey preferred to keep the focus on everyone else.
“I want to make sure that this is about ‘we,’ ” he said on Tuesday. “We are all here because we’re bound by something that we all agree upon: that we are in a great city, in the greatest country on earth and we’re fortunate enough to be a part of the George Washington University because, in one way or another, it touched a chord that we feel strongly about.”
Together, Mr. Ramsey said, he and his fellow university leaders remain unsatisfied with the status quo, understanding the value of higher education and the crucial role it plays in the future of the country.
Mr. Ramsey didn’t escape his tribute without taking a few jabs, either. On Friday, board secretary I. Allan From, B.B.A. ’72, presented the chairman and Dr. Knapp with their very own W. Russell Ramsey bobbleheads, realistic right down to their muse’s hair style, for which Mr. From detailed the precise instructions for applying the accompanying hair mousse.
Later, giving his final thoughts on a more serious note, Mr. Ramsey asked his colleagues to remember two things: the power of relationships and the power of possibility.
“If there’s been a transformation for me, and a transformation for this university, it’s to actually have a culture move from, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is, and that’s how we do things,’ to ‘What if we think of the world in terms of what we can do, and what the possibilities are.’ ”
As he looked around the room, Mr. Ramsey said he knows his colleagues will continue to spread the “what if” culture.
“I really do believe the sky is the limit.”